The March Goes On!

November 07, 2008

When President-elect Barack Obama came to the AFSCME Convention in 2006, he spoke about the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike. It’s a story, he said, of ordinary people making “the extraordinary decision that if we stand together, we rise together” and “achieve extraordinary things.” What those workers in Memphis fought for, Obama pointed out, is the idea that we have a collective responsibility to each other, “to fight for wages that can raise a family, health care if we get sick, a retirement that’s dignified, working conditions that are safe.”

That AFSCME strike was a milestone in the history of our country, when the labor and civil rights movements came together to demand basic rights and respect for all working men and women. Last Tuesday’s election was another milestone in building an America that lives up to its ideals. People rose up, volunteered enthusiastically to campaign for change, unify our nation and make history. Just like the AFSCME sanitation workers who walked off the job to bring about change, millions of Americans voted Nov. 4 to move our nation forward with an agenda that values workers and their families. The strike in Memphis may have ended nearly forty years ago, but the march goes on today. There are many battles yet to be won. Michael Honey, author of a book on the Memphis Strike, notes that “Obama’s campaign proved that ordinary people do extraordinary things when working together. His dramatic and joyful election victory affirmed the power of organizing.” He adds:

“Now it’s time for phase two: for churches, unions, community groups and other organizations to demand action from government. President Obama will need us to support him and to push to fulfill our hopes and promises. We need to take the next steps to make real the promise of a revitalized democracy. That won’t happen without mass citizen involvement. As King would tell us, we still need to organize.”
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